I had never heard of Lava Hot Springs until the day before I arrived, when I noticed it was just about the right amount of miles between me and the Grand Tetons for an overnight stop. I ended up staying two nights in this quiet little community whose claim to fame is their world famous hot springs.
I arrived in Idaho after a longer than usual day of driving and was greeted by the dramatic stormy skies of incoming cold front.
I managed to beat it into town and got my camper set up before the winds proceeded to rock it wildly for about six hours. At one point in the night, I heard the dreaded sound of an incoming freight train, and the Midwesterner in me began to freak out before I realized there actually was a freight train going by the campground. Driving fatigue and crazy storms don’t mix very well.
The next day it was cold and rainy, so soaking in a nice hot springs sounded like a perfect activity. I headed on over to find out what that was all about. What I found was a family friendly collection of pools (no “clothing optional” here, unless you want to be arrested) at varying temperatures ranging from 112 degrees (F), down to a more moderate 102 degrees (F). The hotter pools were definitely less crowded and took a bit of coaxing into, but the large medium hot pool was perfect and filled with people of every age just enjoying the day and the warm water. It was a very social scene, with lots of local residents mixing easily with people from all over the world who were passing through. I chatted with a local woman who was happy to share lots of things in the area to do, including a visit to the next town over where the water comes out of the earth cold and carbonated, hence the name, Soda Springs. I’m definitely in a more geothermal active area than I’m used to back home.
Other activities in the area include tubing down the river, and you can rent a tube and ride it a short way before walking back up the Riverwalk to hop back in. The early spring water flow was both too cold and too high for me to consider doing this, but it looked like it would be a fun thing in the summer.
My hot springs tour guide also shared some tips about Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, so we’ll see if I’m able to figure out where she was trying to send me without getting into trouble!
Overall impression: I’m really glad I stumbled onto this town! It’s worth the stop and the hot springs are open year round until about 11 pm at night. I recommend bringing water with you (or buying at the vending machines), because all that steamy water made me thirsty!
Costs: I stayed at the Lava Hot Springs KOA for $59 for both nights, which was a great rate at a very nice campground, and included both their “Big Weekend” discount and my KOA discount. I had dinner at the Thai restaurant nearby (there’s only one in town and it’s next to the KOA campground), where my delicious chicken curry was just $10.50, plus tax and tip, and was enough for three meals. Admission to the hot springs was $8, plus $1 for towel rental (you give them $6 and they give you back $5 when you bring the towel back), and 50 cents for the locker rental.
Bonus photos here are of the Bonneville Salt Flats seen from Hwy 80 through northern Utah. They’re huge! The highway here travels true East to West for many miles, and the areas just North and South of the road are U.S. missile sites.